10 September 2009


a few weeks ago i (amanda) travelled to kompong cham province with a small organization i work with here called women peacemakers.

the organization provides training in rural cambodia about women's right, domestic violence issues, peacebuilding & conflict mediation skills. cambodia has only recently emerged from decades of brutal & traumatizing civil war so education about peaceful alternatives to mediating conflict are so vital to the country's development.

the work of women peacemakers is inspiring. we traveled five hours by bus from phnom penh to a regional town with a guesthouse & a market.

[can you spot the pig head?]

& early every morning we drove an hour & a half

through miles & miles of rice fields

until we reached the primiary school in the isolated community where the training was held.

the two young women who led the workshop are strong & articulate & i was so impressed with their dedication to their work.

the workshop participants were gentle & kind & tried very patiently to understand my heavily accented khmer.

however, the entire time i attended the training i was an utter spectacle.

[kids gathering to peek in at me during the training]

with my limited khmer, i was able to pick up that the participants were constantly narrating my actions to each other. "she is sitting down". "she is eating fruit". "she is writing with her left hand". & then discussions about my appearance. "her skin is so white". "her shirt is not khmer style" "she looks like angelina" (who people like here because she adopted a cambodian child, somehow skirting the US ban on adoptions from cambodia due to child trafficking issues) .

it was endearing & unnerving all at the same time & provides a lot of food for thought on the arbitrary nature of cultural standards of power & beauty. behind the admiration, do the older participants ever think about my country's devastating bombings of their land & their people? or do they only see the media's idealization of all things western & young?

& the children.

in phnom penh, the kids i see on my street love to run out & yell "HELLO" when we pass by. the kids in this village just seemed totally stunned by my presence.

[when i came out of the bathroom on the first day, i was greeted with a crowd of stares]

they didn't yell greetings, because i think they had actually just never seen a foreigner before. (babies cried!)

but their fascination was tender & once they realised i spoke khmer at a child's level, curiosity got the best of them & they followed me around for days.

their bright smiles were the highlight of my trip, but their reality is much darker than i think i can ever really understand. the widespread poverty in their region means that they are very vulnerable to exploitation & abuse.

[please pray for these sweet children]

[it looks oddly hip, but many of the children have blond streaks in their hair because of a nutrient deficiency & malnutrition]

[i posted this little one-shoed guy in my last post, but i haven't been able to get him out of my mind. the villagers told me that his mother had to go to malaysia to get work (a lot of cambodians are migrant workers in malaysia, thailand, and singapore) & so he does not get proper care]


ZackRock said...

I spotted the pig head! And my reward is that my morning is now ruined.

The situation those kids are in is horrible, and I'll definitely be praying for them. Also, I always thought you looked more like Jennifer Aniston.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written Amanda. I too spotted the pig head - it was nice to see a whole head instead of just piles of snouts for once! Looks like it was a fabulous trip.

Mark Janice Bergen said...

Wow...sounds like you've had an amazing time. Kids in China also seem to say "HELLO" whenever they see us; and cry when their parent's want them to come and talk to us. Enjoyed seeing your pictures and how you are getting so involved in Cambodia. Prayers and blessings.

Catherine said...

Wow, stunning photos Amanda! You should work for National Geographic. Some of the market scenes and landscapes remind me of things we've seen in southern China. My prayers are with you and the kids you're working with.

Amy said...

A friend of mine came across your post and emailed it to me. It's excellent.
I recently arrived in Cambodia, to Kampong Cham, and will stay for awhile. I'm in language study right now.
Do you intend to be back in this area often? Or are you mainly in Phnom Penh?

amanda + daniel said...

Hi Amy. Thanks for writing. I hope you are enjoying your time in Kampong Cham so far. I am based in Phnom Penh & don't make it these rural trainings very often. Let me know if you are ever in town!

adriana said...

love love love it all. your words, your thoughts, your pictures. YOU!!!